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Interviews with Australian Scientists

Louis Charles Birch was born in Melbourne, Victoria in 1918. He graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1939 with a BAgrSc. Birch then began his entomology research career at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, University of Adelaide. For his work on the spread of the Australian plague grasshopper, Birch was awarded a DSc (1948) from the University of Adelaide. In 1948 Birch moved to the University of Sydney where he began as a senior lecturer (1948-53), then reader (1954-60), Professor of Zoology (1960-63) and finally Professor of Biology (1963-83). In 1983 Birch was made emeritus professor of the University of Sydney. Birch made major contributions to the understanding of the effect of weather disturbances on the population and distribution of animals. In addition he wrote widely on theological topics including the idea that all life has intrinsic value, for which he won the Templeton Prize for Religion (1990). Professor Birch passed away in December 2009.

John Sprent was born in 1915 in Mill Hill. He received an MRCVS diploma from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1939 and in 1942 he was awarded a BSc in zoology with first class honours from the University of London. After receiving his degree, Sprent worked at the Vom Veterinary Station in Nigeria. His work there, on Bunostomum phlebotomum (hookworms) in cattle, resulted in a PhD (1945) from the University of London, where he also received a DSc in 1953. In 1946 Sprent went to the University of Chicago and from 1948 to 1952 he was a senior research fellow at the Ontario Research Foundation in Toronto, Canada. Sprent later moved to the University of Queensland as a lecturer in 1952 and remained there for the rest of his career. In 1954 he became research professor of parasitology in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Parasitology and was professor of parasitology from 1956 to 1983. In 1961 a separate Department of Parasitology was established at the university. Professor Sprent passed away in 2010.

Angus David McEwan was born in 1937 in Alloa. Too young for university, he completed a diploma in engineering at Caulfield Technical School. After his National Service, McEwan worked at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne and a cadetship enabled him to study at the University of Melbourne where he graduated with a BEMech (Hons) in 1960. McEwan was then awarded a Vacuum Oil Scholarship to complete his MEngSc in 1962 and then worked again for the Aeronautical Research Laboratories. McEwan received a CSIRO Fellowship to study at Cambridge and later a Public Service Board Scholarship before graduating with a PhD in 1966. McEwan returned to the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in 1966 and later joined the CSIRO Division of Meteorological Physics (later Atmospheric Research) supported by a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship from 1969. In 1971 until 1981 McEwan was appointed as a senior research scientist with the task of creating a geophysical fluid dynamics laboratory within this Division. In 1975, McEwan was invited as a Rossby Fellow to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and in 1981 until 1995 he was appointed to chief of the new CSIRO Division of Oceanography to be established in Hobart. Following his term as chief, McEwan served as senior science advisor to the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology from 1995 to 2005.

Sally Stewart-Wade as born in 1969 in Melbourne. She completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Biology (Hons) in 1991 and her PhD in 1995 from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and during her studies, was awarded an Australian postgraduate research award and a Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation scholarship. From 1994 Stewart-Wade worked as a plant pathologist for the Department of Agriculture Victoria and then from 1996 to 1999 as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Guelph in Canada. In 2000 she was appointed to her present position as research fellow in the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems in the Institute of Land and Food Resources at the University of Melbourne.

Ken Campbell is one of Australia’s most distinguished palaeontologists, certainly the senior palaeontologist in Australia, and one who has made a remarkable contribution to the study of that subject, not only on Australian fossils but also worldwide. He began his geological career in Queensland, under Professor Dorothy Hill, at the University of Queensland. Campbell’s life has been a steady progress in understanding fossil material that began with work on stratigraphy. He is a person who has had many honours including a Nuffield Dominion Travelling Fellowship to Cambridge University in 1958, and this was followed in 1965 by a Fulbright Fellowship to Harvard University. He was a Visiting Scientist at the Field Museum in Chicago in 1981 and at the School of Anatomy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1985.

June Olley received a PhD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She then worked at Torry Research Station in Aberdeen. Olley joined CSIRO in 1968, working at the Tasmanian Food Research Unit, and remained with this organisation throughout her working life. She started as an experimental officer and retired as a senior principal research scientist and leader of the unit. After retirement, Olley became an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Tasmania and has contributed to a number of scientific papers and a microbiology textbook.

Bernhard Hermann Neumann was born in 1909 in Berlin. He earned a D Phil from Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Berlin in 1932 and completed a PhD in mathematics at Cambridge University in 1935. In 1937 Neumann took up a three-year temporary position as assistant lecturer at the University College in Cardiff and from 1940 to 1945 he served initially with the Pioneer Corps, then the Royal Artillery and finally the Intelligence Corps. In 1946 he became a lecturer at University College, Hull before he moved to the University of Manchester in 1948 and spent the next 14 years there. In 1954 Neumann received a DSc from Cambridge University and in 1962 he took up the appointment of Foundation Chair of the Department of Mathematics within the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Australian National University (ANU). He served as Head of the Department until retiring in 1974. In addition Neumann was a Senior Research Fellow at the CSIRO Division of Mathematics and Statistics from 1975 to 1977 and then Honorary Research Fellow from 1978 until his death in 2002.

Stewart Turner was born in 1930 in Sydney. After spending many years at Cambridge University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Turner returned to Australia as the Foundation Professor of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics in the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University. Turner established the connection between the physical processes in the ocean and liquid rocks (lava and magma), and wrote the influential book, Buoyancy Effects in Fluids. His research also discounted the suggestion of towing icebergs from Antarctica to arid coastlines as a source of freshwater. Turner has received numerous awards and continues to be active in research as Emeritus Professor and Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University.

Ralph Slatyer was born in 1929 in Melbourne. He received a BSc in 1951, an MSc in 1955 and a DSc in 1960 from the University of Western Australia. In 1951 Slatyer began work as a research scientist with the CSIRO in what became the Division of Land Research. From 1966 Slatyer was the associate chief of the division and in 1967 he became the foundation professor in Environmental Biology in the Research School of Biological Sciences (RSBS) at The Australian National University (ANU). Also while at the ANU he served as the director of RSBS from 1984 to 1989. On his retirement in 1993 Slatyer became distinguished scholar in residence at RSBS. From 1989 to 1992 he served as the Australian chief scientist. Slatyer was deputy chairman of the National Greenhouse Advisory Committee in the Department of the Arts, Sport, Environment and Territories (1989-93) and chairman of the Cooperative Research Centre Program in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (1989-92). Ralph Slatyer passed away in 2012.

Howard Worner was born in 1913. In 1942, at the age of 28, he became the youngest ever recipient of a Doctor of Science (DSc) from The University of Melbourne. He began his career at the National Health and Medical Research Council. After ‘cutting his teeth’ on researching amalgam for fillings, he became a Professor of Metallurgy and later the Dean of Engineering at The University of Melbourne. He worked for the next 27 years in directorial research roles for BHP, Rio Tinto and Victoria Brown Coal Council. With retirement in mind he moved to Wollongong, where he became the founding Director of the Microwave Applications Research Centre at The University of Wollongong. It was at this time he also published a very successful book, The Minerals of Broken Hill, the result of a lifetime hobby of collecting. The Howard Worner Mineral Collection is held in the Geosciences Department of Wollongong University. Howard Worner passed away in 2006.